We all like to make choices for ourselves and this is especially true for students. Giving students opportunities to make choices is an excellent strategy for increasing engagement and mental flexibility. When we allow a student to choose an activity, it gives her the sense that she has more control, which will likely increase her active participation and interest in the activity.
It is important to build these skills in students with autism spectrum disorder, as they may have been taught to rely on others such as parents, siblings, or teachers instead of making their own choices. When students rely on others to make their choices, they don’t have a chance to experience the results or consequences of their choices.
Most students need to have many opportunities to make choices and become more self-directed. Incorporating structured choice making into the classroom throughout the day gives students the valuable message that they have the power to exert control over their time and environment. This also gives them the chance to appropriately communicate their own wants and needs.
Using a choice card with two to six viable choices can increase engagement and student buy-in. Teaching students how to generate a list of possible choices and select the best option can pay dividends as students become more active learners.
Choice Making Strategy
Structured choices can be used across the curriculum to build mental flexibility and increase student buy-in.Consider the following types of choices that can be made available to the students:
- Presentation – a choice of how information is provided: through reading, auditory means (podcast, etc.), or visual means (video, etc.).
- People – a choice of people to work with: working alone, with a partner, or in a group.
- Product – a choice of how to demonstrate learning: through a written report, visual display, or presentation.
These choices are depicted on the Choice Circle as a graphic that can be used to teach students how to make choices to increase their own engagement in lessons and activities. These can be used as a poster on display in the classroom and also printed on a portable card to be used as a personal reminder by students.
Choice Making Activity
One way to provide a structured choice activity is to use a Choice Circle with three to five choice options, in three to five areas (shown here). Discuss with students the importance of thinking about which choice makes the best sense, given the assigned task. Talk about how different choices may affect the finished product. As students become more adept at making choices that affect their learning, brainstorm other options for presentation, people, or product.
It is important to give all students, and especially those on the spectrum, many opportunities to make choices through the school day. This builds their confidence and gives them the valuable message that they are capable and have power over their lives.